Update on Hana’s Legacy, “Hana’s Law”

So many people around the world keep Hana Alemu (Williams) in their hearts. Many of us have also hoped for a positive legacy, something good that might come from the tragedy of her suffering and death. To its credit, Washington state has been working to improve pre-adoption standards and post-adoption resources in light of Hana and other adopted children.

In 2012, the Washington state Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman produced this sobering document: “Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee Report.” It contained many excellent recommendations to strengthen adoption policy, for private, foster care, and international adoptions. Yes, I know for some folks it’s not enough. Still, it’s progress, and other states would do well to look at it as a guideline.

Some of the recommendations require legislative action in the state. Last year, HB 1675 was introduced, and passed the Washington State House by a vote of 90-7. The bill went to the Senate and died there, unfortunately. I wrote about the bill and more here “In Remembrance of Hana.”

This past Tuesday, (February 11, 2014) HB 1675 was again considered by the House, and was amended slightly. It passed the House by a vote of 98-0. That is very good news.

For the most current version of the bill, click here: HB 1675 as passed by the House.

There are few especially significant parts to the bill.

In terms of pre-adoption training, here are standards for persons preparing pre-placement reports (home studies):

In addition to meeting education and experience requirements, all such persons must receive at least thirty hours of training every two years, either in-person or online, on issues relative to adoption including, but not limited to:

Pertinent laws and regulations; ethical considerations; cultural diversity; factors that lead to the need for adoption; feelings of separation, grief, and loss experienced by children; attachment and posttraumatic stress disorder; and psychological issues faced by children.

While I have no insider information, I can’t help but think of Immanuel Williams (Hana’s adoptive brother) and his diagnosis of PTSD, and wonder if the legislators didn’t have that in mind as they crafted the language.  I also credit them with insisting that home study preparers be knowledgeable about all of the factors above.

Another significant new requirement is this section:

The report shall be based on a study which shall include an investigation of the home environment, family life, existence of extended family and community connections to serve as support, planned approach to child discipline and punishment, health, facilities, and resources of the person requesting the report.  

What stands out to me here is that the home study shall investigate and include information on “the existence of extended family and community connections to serve as support,” something that seemed not have happened in the case of Hana and Immanuel. We will all wonder if these children might have fared differently had the Williams’ family reached out and embraced the Ethiopian community as a resource. (See my post Hana’s Legacy for further information.)

Another significant part of this legislation is this language:

On all preplacement reports filed after January 1, 2015, the preparer shall verify that the prospective adoptive parents were provided with: (a) Copies of Washington state child abuse statutes and (b) the list of informational and resource materials developed and posted pursuant to section 7 of this act. 

Washington state law allows spanking and other disciplinary techniques that don’t leave a mark. If this legislation passes, prospective adoptive parents will have to be specifically provided with that information. Larry and Carri Williams significantly violated the law, even before Hana died. Perhaps this new requirement will help more children to not be abused, especially in the guise of parental “discipline.”

Section 7 of the bill is a new provision that requires the Washington state Ombudsman for Children and Families to convene a work group every two years that compiles a list of “informational and resource materials that must be provided to prospective adoptive parents.” Included on the list must be information such as child abuse statutes and rules in the state; availability of mental health services; training and educational opportunities for parents in general and adoptive parents in particular; respite services; ethnic and cultural organizations;  and information, services, and outreach opportunities available to adopted children.

That is a big deal: requiring a state to provide much-needed, current, and useful information and resources for adoptive families.

By December 31, 2014, if the bill passes as it is currently written, the list will be posted on the Washington Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman’s site and disseminated to agencies and others.

I see this legislation as a legacy of Hana. There are some folks, especially those who have kept her story alive and honored on her Facebook page, who would like to see the legislation called “Hana’s Law.” My understanding is that legislators see this law as having a wider focus, covering other children as well. In any case, the unanimous passage of HB 1675 is a positive development. Here’s hoping it moves quickly and successfully on the Senate side.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Kathryn Joyce: Aftermath of Hana Williams’ Death, and of Ethiopian Adoptions

During the course of the 7 week trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Skagit County, Washington, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Kathryn Joyce, the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. Having worked years ago with international adoption agencies, I knew some of the people mentioned in the book, and was familiar with some of the issues raised. Kathryn is a thoughtful, intelligent, warm person, and a talented, insightful writer.

She covered the trial of the parents of Ethiopian adoptees Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams, and talked with many members of the Ethiopian community as well, including adoptees. She has written a powerful, challenging piece published today on Slate. Click on the title to read it: Hana’s Story: An adoptee’s tragic fate, and how it could happen again.

The article discusses Hana’s life and death, and the subsequent trial of Larry and Carri Williams, now serving long sentences in jail. It also tells the stories of several other Ethiopian adoptees, placed primarily by Adoption Advocates International, the same adoption agency that the Williamses used. These now-young adults were adopted into very large, Christian fundamentalist families, and many were subjected to the same treatment as Hana and her adopted brother Immanuel. Some of these Ethiopian adoptees have been thrown out of their families, have struggled mightily fitting into American society, and are now desperately alone, far from the land of their birth.

As an adoptive parent of twin Ethiopian daughters, I read the story of the Ethiopian adoptees with a heavy heart. I’ve expressed my concerns about adoption practices related to Hana and Immanuel in several posts, such as Case Study, Part 1: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency, and Case Study, Part 2.

While Hana’s death was an extreme example of what can go tragically wrong in adoption, we cannot dismiss it as “isolated” and turn our eyes. We need to reflect very seriously on how to make things better for adopted children. The children (we hope) grow up to be adults. They continue to need services and support, especially if the placements were not appropriate for them and they have been exiled from their adoptive families–and now cannot return to their homeland either.

I encourage you to read The Child Catchers, and to read Kathryn’s article on Slate. Yes, it’s tough reading, and the temptation is to shake our heads, to throw up our hands. But that’s not enough.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

May Hana rest in peace, and may no child suffer as she did. May her legacy be one of hope and strength for Ethiopian adoptees.

Update: KUOW, NPR’s Seattle station, did an interview with Kathryn Joyce on November 13. Listen to it here.

Larry and Carri Williams: Sentenced to Long Jail Times

This morning (October 29, 2013) at 9:30 am pdt, at the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon, WA, Judge Susan Cook presided over the sentencing hearing of Larry Williams, convicted of manslaughter (of adopted Ethiopian daughter Hana) and assault of a child (of adopted Ethiopian son Immanuel), and of Carri Williams, convicted of homicide by abuse (of Hana), manslaughter (of Hana), and assault of a child (Immanuel).

Larry and Carri both were in the Skagit County red prison uniforms. As would be expected, the attorneys for both defense and prosecution had various arguments and motions. Larry’s attorneys began by arguing for a new trial; the judge denied the motions. The judge vacated (dropped) Carri’s manslaughter conviction, because she was also convicted of a more serious offense, homicide by abuse, for the same conduct.

The prosecution asked for 333 months, or 27 3/4 years, of jail time for Larry Williams. The defense attorneys asked for 5 years, saying that Larry is ashamed for what he did, and that he has been punished enough.

The prosecution asked for 443 months (about 37 years) of jail time for Carri Williams.  The defense recommended 333 months (about 28 years) for Carri, saying she is not a danger to the community.

Larry Williams wanted to speak on his own behalf, but the motion was denied.

As she was about to hand down the sentences, Judge Cook said, “I am at a complete loss as to why this happened.”

The judge sentenced Larry to a sentence of 333 months. That is a surprisingly long sentence. The judge signed the judgment and sentence documents in regards to Larry, who was then led away to jail.

The Judge sentenced Carri to a sentence of 443 months, the full amount requested by the prosecution. Judge Cook said Carri probably deserved more. Carri was taken away immediately in handcuffs and chains.

Carri’s attorneys plan to file an appeal. They asked for bail during the appeal to be lowered to $600,000. The judge denied the motion, and set bail at $1.5 million.

Judge Cook had presided over the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, the longest in the history of Skagit County, Washington state. I have written dozens of posts about the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu (Williams) and the assault of Ethiopian adoptee Immanuel, both of whom were placed for adoption with the Williams’ family in 2008.

The courtroom was, not surprisingly, packed to overflowing. Gina Cole of the Skagit Valley herald reported that trial jurors were there, as well as Carri Williams’s sister, Immanuel’s foster mother, and some witnesses from the trial. Lee Stoll, a reporter with KIRO7, said that 10 of the 14 jurors were in the jury box to watch the sentencing.

Many representatives from the Ethiopian community attended the trial, and many were again present today at the sentencing. The Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle sent an email out saying that they planned to place flowers and candles on Hana’s grave in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery following the sentencing hearing. There will also be a celebration of Hana’s life at the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle tonight, at 6pm pdt. The address is 8323 Rainier Ave South, Seattle, WA 98118. Phone: 206-325-0304.

May Hana rest in peace, never forgotten.

Note: Many thanks to Skagit Valley Herald reporter Gina Cole, KING-TV reporter Erik Wilkinson, and KIRO7 TV reporter Lee Stoll for their “real-time” Twitter feeds.

KING-TV Photo from Erik WIlkinson's Twitter feed

KING-TV Photo from Erik WIlkinson’s Twitter feed

Update on October 29 Sentencing of Larry and Carri Williams

Note: My blog post about the sentencing and jail terms is available here at Larry and Carri Williams: Sentenced to Long Jail Times.

Larry and Carri Williams are expected to appear in Skagit County Court tomorrow, October 29, at 9:30am Pacific Daylight Time, for sentencing following their convictions in the murder of their Ethiopian adopted daughter Hana, and for the assault of their Ethiopian adopted son Immanuel. The courthouse is expected to be packed, following the longest trial ever in Skagit County, Washington.

The jury announced their decision on September 9. Both Larry and Carri were taken immediately to jail that day. Sentencing was originally scheduled for October 8. My guess is that decisions regarding the placements of the Williams’ children needed to be settled prior to sentencing. I believe that their minor children will be placed with relatives. I have heard that parental rights for Immanuel have been terminated, which would mean he could be adopted by another family, but I have no confirmation of that yet.

The decision on sentencing is in the hands of Judge Susan Cook, who presided over the trial. The lawyers have been busy preparing documents for the judge to consider in making her decision.

Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse and of manslaughter of Hana. She was also found guilty of first degree assault of Immanuel. Here is a recent Skagit Valley Herald article on Carri Williams’ motion to drop manslaughter charge. My understanding is that the prosecutors will recommend 27 to 37 years in jail for Carri Williams.

Here is a Skagit Valley Herald article on Carri Williams’ treatment in jail.

Larry Williams was found guilty of manslaughter of Hana and of first degree assault of Immanuel. He has already spent about two years in jail while the case was pending and could get credit for that time. My understanding is that the prosecutors will recommend 14 to 18 years in jail for Larry Williams.

Here is a recent Skagit Valley Herald article on Larry Williams’ attorneys motion to dismiss the conviction.

Rachel Forde, one of Larry’s Snohomish County public defenders, has been consistent in her strategy for her client. In the course of Larry’s testimony during the trial, he blamed Carri for almost all that happened. The idea: his work schedule (noon to midnight, plus overtime) prevented him from knowing what was going on. The defense motion asks the judge to dismiss the conviction, but my sense is that this is simply an aggressive defense argument, and a very unlikely outcome. Ms. Forde also argues that Larry should receive a sentence of 5 years at most, which is also unlikely. Many folks felt Larry threw Carri under the bus during this trial, and that perspective is in place for sentencing as well. A hefty part of this defense motion included a study of adjustment issues for international adoptees, suggesting that Hana and Immanuel were responsible for the crimes committed against them. A lot of room under that bus, it seems. The tragedy continues.

The Skagit Valley Herald articles were all written by reporter Gina Cole, who has covered the trial since the first day of jury selection in July. You can access Gina’s articles on her Facebook page.

If you have trouble accessing the Skagit Valley Herald articles because of their limitations, try going to the links through a different browser (Safari, Chrome, etc.).

If you use Twitter, good sources for real-time updates during tomorrow’s sentencing are likely the following:

@Gina_SVH    This is Gina Cole, the reporter mentioned above.

@EricWilkinson    He’s a reporter for KING 5 news in Seattle.

@LeeStoll     She is a reporter for KIRO-TV in Seattle.

Follow updates on Twitter at #WilliamsTrial.

I have written extensively about this case over the past year, and I wrote about the trial every day that I attended. It’s hard to feel anything but sorrow, even as I believe justice was the outcome of the trial. Folks will be visiting Hana’s grave in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery after the sentencing hearing Tuesday morning, and I hope to get further word about a grave marker/headstone.

I will continue to write about Hana’s legacy.

May Hana never be forgotten. May Immanuel grow strong and unafraid.  May this horror never happen to another child.

 

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

David Guterson’s Op-Ed on Revamping WA State Adoption Laws

David Guterson is well-known for his books, such as Snow Falling on Cedars. He lives on Bainbridge Island, a quick ferry ride from Seattle, with his family. Like me, he is an adoptive parent, and has followed the Larry and Carri Williams’ case closely.

Today’s Seattle Times (September 12) included this op-ed by David, urging an overhaul of Washington State adoption laws.

David writes that “efforts at adoption reform should focus on vetting prospective adoptive parents and on insuring that children are not placed in homes where they will be abused. Current preplacement and home-study practices don’t work.

After Larry Williams was convicted, his attorneys stated that he was ‘naive and unprepared to deal with’ the challenges inherent in the adoptions he had undertaken. It is exactly that sort of naiveté and lack of preparation we must address through legislation. The time for reform has come.”

I testified earlier this year in Olympia on behalf of HB 1675, a bill David cites in his op-ed, to bring about some of the changes needed in terms of preparation and home study requirements. Information about the bill is available in my post here, “In Remembrance of Hana.” David also notes in the op-ed that the bill, unfortunately, went nowhere.

Here’s hoping that the Washington State legislature will be more open and brave in bringing about much-needed changes to protect children.

I also hope the voices of adult Ethiopian adoptees will be an important part of the legislation and the reform process.

As I wrote in my post Hana’s Legacy, strong, meaningful adoption policy reform would be a long-lasting tribute to her brief but valuable life.

Williams Trial Verdict Is In: Justice for Hana and Immanuel

Larry Williams:

  • No verdict on Homicide by abuse (jury unable to agree)
  • Guilty of Manslaughter in the 1st degree
  • Guilty of Assault of a Child in the 1st degree

Carri Williams:

  • Guilty of Homicide by Abuse
  • Guilty of Manslaughter in the 1st degree
  • Guilty of Assault of a Child in the 1st degree

JUSTICE FOR HANA, JUSTICE FOR IMMANUEL.

The jury has been excused. Carri Williams has been taken into custody, and held on $1.5 million bail, awaiting sentencing. Larry will likely remain in custody, pending sentencing. Larry’s bail is set at $750,000. Sentencing is expected to take place in early October.

As to the Williams’ children, my guess is that (with the exception of Immanuel) there will be Dependency Court hearings to determine which children will go with which relatives, since both parents will be in jail, likely for decades. My guess is that parental rights will be terminated in regard to Immanuel, who could then be adopted by another family.

 

 

Seattle Times Article on the Williamses’ Trial

Yesterday the Seattle Times published “Adoptive parents on trial in Ethiopian girl’s death,” about the ongoing trial of Larry and Carri Williams for homicide and manslaughter of their adopted Ethiopian daughter Hana Alemu, and for first degree assault of their surviving adopted Ethiopian son Immanuel. Click here to read the article. I’m quoted, along with several others. I spoke with the reporter for nearly an hour. I appreciate that she wrote a strong article outlining main points, and that the Seattle Times put the article on the front page, above the fold.

While there has been solid local reporting by Skagit Valley Herald’s Gina Cole, and film and stories by KIRO-TV’s Lee Stoll, this is the first large newspaper coverage of the trial. It could be a sign that the trial will begin to receive more attention from bigger media outlets, though perhaps that won’t happen until the verdict is announced. That announcement  is probably weeks away.

A quote from the article:

The case has highlighted the gaps in oversight of adoptions in Washington and drawn attention to the challenges that some Ethiopian adoptees and their new parents may face. Parents and leaders in Washington’s adoption system are closely following the trial, as are Seattle-area Ethiopians, who have attended proceedings every day, almost as a vigil.

The article comments on the role of Washington State laws and policies regarding oversight of adoptions, and the concerns of many in the adoption community about how to prevent a tragedy like this from ever occurring again.  I’ve written here about how the adoption community failed Hana.  I’ve written here regarding questions for adoption agency practices.

Per my quote in the Seattle Times article, I believe preparation for adoptive parents needs to improve, so that they can best meet the needs of the children, who may have minimal or highly significant challenges. (At the least, adopted children have experienced the basic loss of their first family; some experience many more losses.) We need to make sure that anyone considering adoption is extremely well-screened, especially in terms of why they are adopting, and in terms of disciplinary techniques. I also believe we need to advocate for meaningful post-adoption services, and to affirm (not stigmatize) parents who seek out these services for their children. We also need to listen better to the insights of adult adoptees, whose perspectives are invaluable in adoption policy.

When this trial ends, whatever the outcome, that’s not the end at all for the legacy we can create for Hana. The small one is a decent grave marker for Hana at the Sedro-Woolley cemetery. The bigger ones are advocacy for changes in adoption practice that are truly child-centric and adoptee-focused: changes that ensure that children are safe and families receive help and support when they are struggling. Further, I hope that awareness is raised for the plight of Ethiopian adoptees who have had some similar (though not so tragic) experiences as Hana and Immanuel, who are now young adults, and who deserve care and support as well.

Immanuel, by the way, is done testifying. He described what he went through (beatings, isolation, missing meals, witnessing Hana’s treatment and death) and endured the defense attorneys’ cross-examination and their attempts to discredit him. Larry and Carri Williams are accused of first degree assault of Immanuel, so the defense attorneys’ job was to create reasonable doubt regarding the accusations. As a result, Immanuel was treated harshly on the stand by the defense attorneys.

I give Immanuel great credit for resiliency and strength in testifying, in facing those who harmed him, in re-visiting what were extremely painful life events, and in standing his ground for his truth. He has the great support of so many people he will probably never meet, but who will keep him in their hearts always. Justice for Hana, justice for Immanuel.

IMG_9318

Snakes, A Child, and Defense Attorneys

I am not a lawyer. The trial of Larry and Carri Williams has opened my eyes quite a bit to the US court process. This is the first–and I hope last–criminal trial I’ve attended in any capacity. I’m astonished by the way our legal system can treat a child.

Larry and Carri Williams are accused of the same crimes: homicide by abuse and manslaughter in the death of their adopted Ethiopian daughter Hana Alemu and first degree assault of their adopted Ethiopian son Immanuel. They each have two public defenders. Carri Williams’ public defenders from Skagit County are Keith Tyne and Laura Riquelme. Rachel Forde is one of the two Snohomish County public defenders representing Larry Williams; Cassie Trueblood is the other. (Larry Williams is being held in the Snohomish County jail, though he is listed on the Skagit County jail roster.)

Sometimes these 4 attorneys are in agreement about a court procedure, a line of questioning, a piece of evidence. Sometimes they are not. The scuttlebutt is that either side could throw the other defendant under the bus. And I guess that’s their job.

During jury selection, the prospective jurors were asked about several things that might potentially affect or impair their ability to be objective, to be impartial. Was the idea of a child dying one of those things? What about beating a child? What about fundamentalist Christianity?

Ms. Forde spoke forcefully to the pool of possible jurors about her deep fear of snakes. She said that even the idea of snakes so affected her that she would not be able to have a clear, objective frame of mind if she were making an important decision. She asked potential jurors to reflect on their own “snakes,” the things that so disturbed them they couldn’t think clearly.

She also spoke quite candidly about her approach in the trial, that she would be outspoken and forceful. Would you as a juror be able to accept that, she wondered, and not see her as a “snake”?

I think about those questions now as I have watched her during this trial.

One job (I’ve been told it’s essentially the only job) of the defense attorney is to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors about the case and the witnesses being presented by the prosecution. That’s why Ms. Forde worked to discredit Immanuel’s therapist’s diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: maybe it’s really Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Same with the forensic pathologist. Maybe Hana was not starved or malnourished: maybe it was anorexia?

We got a more intense insight of her approach during the cross-examination of the expert on torture.  She made statements, ending with “Correct?” The witness said “No, not correct.” She kept going, as if the witness had not disagreed with her, asking a follow-up question the same way, and getting the same response. She closed her cross with him noting how much he had earned as an expert witness, and wouldn’t appearing in this trial now allow him to make all sorts of lucrative future appearances? He said no, but the point had been made.

It’s one thing to watch her engaging this way with a grown man in his 60’s, a retired US Navy admiral, a lawyer with years in the military. It’s another to watch this with a 12-year-old adopted deaf boy who has endured abuse and who watched his adopted sister be abused.

Gina Cole, the talented reporter with the Skagit County Herald, reported Ms. Forde’s tactics this way on August 7, 2013:

“Tuesday afternoon, the Williamses’ adopted son returned to the witness stand for the third time. Larry Williams’ attorney Rachel Forde talked the boy through losing his biological parents, being found by police in a field and taken to an orphanage, flying to the United States and meeting the Williams family, trying to acclimate to his new home and at times disobeying his new parents.

Forde’s questions were phrased as statements, inviting the boy to confirm they were true. But as the questions went on, the boy often replied that something did not happen and the question that followed implied it did:

Forde: So, when there were no eggs and you were supposed to clean the chicken coop, they showed you how to do that.

Boy: No, they never told me.

Forde: And because they showed you how to do it, that’s how you knew you were supposed to do it, right?

Boy: No.

Several times, he told Forde the household rules were never explained to him, and he never understood the Williamses’ expectations. He also said he “never felt comfortable and liked it there,” through a sign-language interpreter.

Forde ended her questioning by asking the boy if he lied even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to, and the boy said he wasn’t sure what she meant. Forde then confirmed he knew the difference between the truth and a lie. The boy’s time was then up; he is limited to two and a half hours on the stand at a time.”

You can also follow Gina Cole on Twitter (Gina_SVH) at #Williamstrial; she posts directly from the court room.

So let me understand: Our court system protects minors vigilantly by insisting that they are identified only by their initials, to protect their privacy. But it allows children who have experienced trauma, who have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who have witnessed and received abuse, whose parents are accused of first degree assault against them, who were removed from their home by the state because of abuse –it allows the very adult system of badgering and goading to be used against a child in a public setting, with the defendants in the same room, and lots of adults staring at the child.

Well-adjusted, un-traumatized adults would have difficulty with this court room process of being repeatedly questioned in a harsh tone, of having answers ignored, of having to revisit and defend past, painful events. We expect them to cope, since they are adults.

Immanuel is a child, a child for whom the state of Washington had sufficient evidence to bring charges against his parents for assault on him and for the murder of his adopted Ethiopian sister. I am astonished and disappointed that the best our legal system can do for a child is to re-open wounds in a disturbing manner (through word choice, tone, repetition, confusing phrasing, eye-rolling, lack of eye contact, belittling), and treat a (traumatized, assaulted) child the same way as an adult on the stand.

Yes, in the eyes of the law, the assault is alleged. Still, we have heard from the defendants’ own biological children that the adopted children were isolated, put in closets, fed wet sandwiches, and hit with a plastic rod on the soles of their feet. We have heard from Immanuel’s well-credentialed therapist about his PTSD.

Yes, it is necessary for Immanuel to take the stand. Is it necessary for the child to be bullied by an adult in search of defending her client? Is this the best format we can arrange for a child to testify in our court system? Is this how we care for children?

Or is this the way we sacrifice them in pursuit of a defense?

Case Study, Part 2: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency

In Case Study, Part 1, I reviewed some of the background facts about the agency used in the adoption of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, we need to make changes in adoption policy, and engage in hard conversations that includes adoptive parents, adopted persons, and first parents. I challenge adoption agencies and licensing authorities in particular to step up.

Here are Case Study Questions that leap to my mind, questions that deserve to be discussed, considered, and answered, by adoption agency professionals, social workers, families, legislators, and more. Home studies and post-adoption services need to be examined closely to ensure they meet the needs of families, and especially of adopted children.

Why did the Williamses decide to adopt two older children from Ethiopia? What discussions did they have in the home study process with their agency, Adoption Advocates International (AAI), about the reasons?

(They wanted more children, in addition to their 7. Why older children? Why Ethiopia? Why 2 children?)

How did the family afford the adoption, which must have cost at least $20,000?

(People don’t have to be wealthy to adopt, though adoption can be an expensive process. The US government has prospective adoptive parents of internationally adopted children sign a form that they have sufficient income not to become a burden on the public system (welfare, food stamps, etc.). In the case of the Williamses, one modest income and 11 people (2 adults, 9 children) had to have been a challenge.

The role of money in adoption is often controversial. If Hana or Immanuel needed additional resources, could the Williamses afford them? Was financial strain a factor? Lots of big families do well, and children thrive in them, even if incomes are limited. Still, finances can be stressful for many families, and that potential stress should be carefully considered and discussed in the home study process.)

Did the Williamses use the adoption tax credit? Did AAI tell them about it? If so, did that influence their decision and ability to adopt?

(For information about the adoption tax credit, read my post here.)

How did the home study address the discipline techniques of Larry and Carri Williams? Were there any red flags? What agreements did they sign regarding discipline and punishment? Did they violate any of those agreements?

(Washington state allows spanking of children, as long as it doesn’t leave a mark.) 

Carri Williams apparently expected/wanted a little girl through the adoption. How did the AAI social worker address Carri’s wishes in the home study? What age child/children were the Williamses approved for by the home study, which also had to have the approval of the US State Department?

(A primary goal in adoption is supposed to be finding family for a child, not a child for a family. How was this fundamental goal addressed in the home study?)

Did Carri Williams realize, prior to Hana’s arrival in the US, that Hana was at least 10 years old? If not, why not? What sort of conversations and discussion did the home study actually involve? Was this conflict discussed in post-placement agency work? If not, why not?

In the home study process, did the adoption agency suggest that the Williamses connect with the Ethiopian community in Seattle and elsewhere? Did Larry and Carri know any Ethiopians, any Ethiopian-Americans? Did they know any people of color?

(Ask adult Ethiopian adoptees, and other transracially adopted adults, if this matters in parenting adopted children.)

In the home study, what resources did the Williamses indicate they had as a support system for the post-adoption needs of 2 older, Ethiopian children, and of the family as a whole? Did AAI feel these were sufficient?

Did the Williamses complete their mandated 10 hours of pre-adoption preparation on-line, as is allowed by the Hague Convention?

(Ten hours. That’s it. That’s all that is mandated for pre-adoption counseling for two, older, transracial, international adoptions. Did AAI suggest any further preparation? ) 

How did the social worker prepare and include the 7 Williamses’ children in the discussions about how their lives would change with the addition of two children?

The Williamses did not ever travel to Ethiopia, though in 2008 this was standard practice for families adopting from Ethiopia. Why didn’t one or both travel? The travel could have involved their meeting birth family members of both Hana and Immanuel, as well as seeing the country. Might that have made a difference in their approach to the children?

In terms of information provided to the Williamses by AAI, did that information include resources for post-adopt services, such as counseling, therapists, respite care, adoptive families, adult adoptees, the Ethiopian Community Center, etc?

Did the Williamses sign any agreements regarding their knowledge of post-adopt resources? Did they sign any agreements that they would contact AAI if they needed assistance and/or support?

How hard did AAI press the Williamses’ to send in the Post-Placement Reports?

(Ethiopia requests all adoptive parents to send post-placement reports annually until the child is 18. They want to know that the children are alive, safe, and cared for, in terms of health, schooling, and overall well-being. Once an adoption is finalized, it is up to the adoptive parents to comply; there is no enforcement mechanism.

These reports are different from the reports required by the US to finalize the adoption. These are reports based on the agency social worker’s visits and/or conversations, plus information on adjustment, medical evaluations, and so on. These generally take place 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months after a child’s arrival. 

My understanding, based on Gay Knutson’s testimony, is that the Williamses completed all the US requirements for finalization with AAI. It is less clear that they sent in the annual reports to Ethiopia.)

Final thoughts

Regardless of the outcome of this case, these questions about the home study process and about post-placement resources all deserve further consideration by international adoption agency staff, not just AAI but all agencies, as well as the Council on Accreditation, Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the US State Department–Office of Children’s Issues, and state licensing agencies.

Most international adoptions do not have these publicized, horrific outcomes. We don’t know, though, how many international adoptees, Ethiopian or otherwise, are suffering under the radar, because of insufficient preparation and post-placement services.

We do know that hundreds, if not thousands, of adoptive parents seek advice and support on-line, and not from their agencies. The parents have many questions and they need lots of help, which they seek out from strangers on-line. Post-adoption services are vitally needed. What is the adoption agency response to this? What is the State Department’s? COA’s? What are their responsibilities?

it doesn’t lessen the horrific tragedy, but perhaps one positive legacy could be an overhaul of the adoption process, in a way that ensures safety, transparency, and integrity. I hope for this, and for justice for Hana.

My Hiatus (I’ll Still Be Writing)

For ten days, I attended and blogged about the trial of Larry and Carri Williams. The response has been amazing: over 6,000 views of trial-related posts just in the last week. Since I started blogging on July 22, there have been over 5,000 visitors to my blog. Top views by country are, in order, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Ireland, Haiti, and Denmark. I say all this just to share that there is great interest in this case around the world. I would like to think that this interest in my blog indicates hope that justice will be achieved for Hana.

I am very grateful to those who have read my blog, have shared my posts, and have commented. Many thanks to those who have shared kind thoughts with me, and expressed support for Hana and Immanuel.

I’ve driven over a thousand miles over the ten days to attend the trial. I’ve attended not because I am a lawyer, journalist, or social worker, but because I’m an adoptive parent and a former adoption agency professional. I would not qualify for the jury for several reasons: I don’t live in Skagit County, and I have strong feelings (about adoption, about Ethiopian adoption, about child abuse) that would have colored my ability to be impartial to the defendants. I also wouldn’t have qualified because (like many prospective jurors who were dismissed) I have upcoming vacation plans with my family. As of Monday, August 5, I won’t be in the Skagit County court room, but will be heading for the east coast.

My time east includes attending an Ethiopian Heritage Camp in Virginia with my daughters and granddaughter. You can read more about that in this post. I will be presenting a workshop there, and my Ethiopian daughters are on a panel about Growing Up in America. I look forward to talking with folks there (Ethiopians as well as adoptive parents of Ethiopian children) about their views on the trial.

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During my time on the east coast, I will still be commenting on the trial and posting updates. There may be guest bloggers who attend the trial and post on my blog. Gina Cole of the Skagit County Herald has been attending and writing articles daily. Gina is also tweeting at #Williamstrial. Please read her articles and follow her tweets. Also, be sure to check the Facebook group, Remembrance of Hanna Williams. Media updates are posted there as well.

If the trial is still underway by the time I am back, around August 22, I will again attend and post as often as possible. Regardless of the jury’s decision, I hope that the outcome of this trial will include a thoughtful examination of adoption policy and practices, conversations about ways to better protect children, and strategies to assist Ethiopian adoptees and others who may have endured (or are enduring) abuse by adoptive parents. I will continue writing and speaking out, and I encourage you to do the same.